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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 13 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 50
Ferocious Smaug a fiery disappointment
Arts & Entertainment
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Ferocious Smaug a fiery disappointment

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE HOBBIT:
THE DESOLATION OF SMAUG
Now showing


Peter Jackson's latest foray into the Middle Earth world of J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, is a major improvement in almost all ways that count over his previous epic, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It looks better, it moves faster, the set pieces sparkle with energy and there is ample imagination on display at all times. The changes it makes to the most familiar pieces of the text feel organic, nonintrusive, while the connections with the coming events to happen in The Lord of the Rings trilogy don't feel as forced or obnoxious as they did in last year's decent, if overlong and meandering, fantasy-adventure.

Be all that as it may, I ended up liking this second chapter in the New Zealand filmmaker's latest trilogy far, far less than I did the first one. The reasons for this are many, but the most important one is that, for all the film's flash, for all its impressive razzle-dazzle, for as much as it gets right and for as lived-in and as actualized as the peril facing Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and his dwarf companions might be, the sequel simply does not hold up as a self-contained motion picture. It is not entertaining or enjoyable in and of itself, does not work as a piece of stand-alone storytelling, the climactic cliffhanger having the dubious distinction of making the film nothing more than a 165-minute coming attraction reel for a story we will not see resolved until December of 2014.

As I've stated many times before, the best 'part twos' are the ones that broaden and deepen the mythology of the story at hand, give it more resonance and meaning while at the same time setting the stage for the climactic events to come. I made a case recently that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire does just that; and even though nothing is resolved and that chaos is only just beginning to bloom into savage fury, as a single story, as a singular entertainment, the movie still works in its own right while at the same time whetting the appetite for the two-part resolution set for release over the next couple of years.

The infuriating thing about The Desolation of Smaug is that, much like say Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, by the time it ultimately does come to an end, one is struck with the sudden realization that it has no other reason to exist other than to set the stage for the final chapter in the trilogy. As a film, it does not exist on its own; there is no satisfaction to be found while watching the screen fade to black. It plays more like a cliffhanger to a popular television show than it does a motion picture, and as such I can't imagine wanting to watch it on its own sans the final portion at any point in the foreseeable future.

Maybe. My reservations towards being definitive with that statement are numerous, chief amongst them the simple fact that, in spite of my hesitation going into the theatre, by and large Jackson and company exceeded virtually all of my expectations with what they ended up delivering. Bilbo's story evolves rather beautifully, his relationship with Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) and the rest of the dwarves on the way to destroy the dragon Smaug and reclaim their home inside the Lonely Mountain broadening in both depth and meaning nicely. On top of that, the danger feels more concrete, more palpable, and when Gandalf (Ian McKellan) makes the decision to disappear for a time and investigate what's going on in regards to this fabled necromancer and his powerful control over the vile things of the world the tension generated is substantial.

Even the addition of old friend Legolas, still played with calmly angelic severity by Orlando Bloom, that is shoehorned into the proceedings rather inelegantly, doesn't end up feeling as obtuse as it does initially, many of the action beats featuring him and his cohort Tauriel (a rather divine Evangeline Lilly) staged with magnificent eloquence. A central chase sequences featuring gallivanting elves, marauding orcs and a bunch of dwarves spiraling down a raging river inside of leaky barrels - don't ask - is a rollicking, if understandably nonsensical, sensation, while the central showdown between Bilbo and Smaug (voiced by a deliciously vile Benedict Cumberbatch) is impressive.

The catch to all of this is that Jackson doesn't seem to have the first clue as to where all of this should come to an end. More to the point, had he just resolved the storyline hinted at in the title much of my consternation and unhappiness would have been instantly erased. At the same time, had he finished up maybe ten minutes or so before he ultimately does, the filmmaker still could have begun the final chapter, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, pretty much at exactly the same point he obviously wanted to, but without the viewer, or at least me, feeling like all he did was show me an overlong commercial. He could have presented a resolution that still left major plot points as open-ended as they need to be, while at the same time left one with a sense at least certain elements had been suitably tied together, allowing the film to stand on its own divorced from its other two halves, while at the same time making it an even more enjoyable narrative when all three are ultimately joined together as one.

Jackson has done just this before, of course - The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is a great movie in and of itself and one that is made even more magnificent when paired with The Fellowship of the Ring and The Return of the King - so it isn't like we don't know he has it in him to get this done. But he fails here, miserably so, to my mind. The Desolation of Smaug leaves a fire of dissatisfaction burning within my loins that's so all-encompassing I'm not certain any amount of cooling waters (i.e. a climactic sequel I end up loving) could ever hope to put it out.

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